Sacramento police announced the arrest Thursday of a 16-year-old in the shooting death of a popular Grant Union High School football player in November, capping an intense three-month investigation that rattled the North Sacramento community.
During a news conference at police headquarters, Chief Samuel Somers Jr. said the suspect, Keymontae Lindsey, had been in custody on an unrelated charge since the day after Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo’s shooting, but was officially named as a suspect in the killing only Thursday when homicide charges were added.
Lindsey was arrested Nov. 14 for allegedly having a loaded firearm during a routine traffic stop. The gun was later determined to be the one used in the killing of Clavo, Somers said, adding that Lindsey is a validated gang member.
The teenager faces a number of charges that include homicide, attempted homicide, shooting into an occupied vehicle and a gang enhancement.
He is being held at Sacramento County juvenile hall and will be arraigned Monday as an adult, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office. Somers said other people were with the suspect during the shooting and that more arrests are expected soon.
Clavo, along with senior Grant fullback Malik Johnson and other football players, were stopped at Silver Eagle Road and Mabel Street on their way back to the Grant campus when five shots rang out, striking Clavo and Johnson. Clavo was shot in the neck and later died at UC Davis Medical Center, while Johnson survived with minor injuries to an arm.
The teens, who were returning to school after getting food, drove to the safety of Grant High School and the shooter fled the scene.
“It’s a very tragic incident that … ripped at the core of our community,” Somers said, describing the crime as “brazen” and “heinous.”
Somers emphasized that Clavo was not the intended target, but declined to say whether the bullets were meant for someone else in the car. The chief said Clavo did not know Lindsey.
Somers said the suspect did not attend Grant High School. Lindsey apparently spent short stints at several schools in districts around the Sacramento region. Records show he used a different birth year at some schools. It is unclear whether the suspect was enrolled as a student at the time of the shooting.
He was last known to be enrolled at Valley High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District, but left in October 2015, according to Xanthi Pinkerton, spokeswoman for the district.
He was a freshman at Natomas High School from August 2014 to May 2015, according to Natomas Unified District spokesman Jim Sanders. Prior to that, from April to June 2014, Lindsey was a student at a middle school in the Twin Rivers Unified School District and enrolled at Grant High in August 2014, but never showed up, according to district spokeswoman Zenobia Gerald.
The suspect was a student in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District for a portion of sixth grade and seventh grade at Mills Middle School and in an alternative education program before transferring to a school in Fairfield, according to district spokesman Daniel Thigpen.
The slaying of the 17-year-old senior defensive back gripped the Del Paso Heights community for weeks, as vigils were held and residents pitched in to establish a reward fund. A total of $40,000 was raised for information leading to the suspect’s arrest and conviction. There was no word Thursday on whether anyone would receive the $40,000 reward.
“This community took me in, they embraced me, they lifted me up,” Nicole Clavo, the victim’s mother, said at Thursday’s news conference.
Nicole Clavo was visibly overwhelmed, with tears streaming down her face. A button showing her son holding a football was pinned to her chest.
Taking a deep breath, she said, “God is good. My faith has kept me strong.”
She also asked the public not to forget about her son and hoped to use the episode to prevent future violence.
“We have to speak up and be a voice for those who no longer have voices,” Clavo said.
In a Facebook post, the suspect’s mother, Ranika Ellis-Lindsey, said her son was innocent.
“Lord Jesus take the wheel,” she wrote. “I’m lost right now.”
She did not respond to a request for comment.
The shooting occurred just hours before Grant was to play Beyer of Modesto in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II high school football playoffs.
Somers said it took countless hours for detectives to piece together the investigation, noting that physical evidence, forensic testing and witness accounts ultimately led them to conclude that Lindsey was behind the killing.
Asked why it took nearly three months to name Lindsey as a suspect, the chief said, “We were looking at everyone.”
He explained how ShotSpotter – the gunshot detection microphone technology – played a key role in the case, noting that officers responded to the scene within three minutes of the shooting, allowing them to collect shell casings that were connected to a firearm belonging to Lindsey.
Even after police had arrested Lindsey, they still actively solicited information from the public. Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, a department spokesman, said investigators needed time to build a solid case.
“We don’t rush our investigation,” he said. “We make sure we have thoroughly looked into every angle.”
Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness suggested the breakthrough came after a number of witnesses came forward. He said the fact that Lindsey had possession of the weapon used in the murder wasn’t necessarily strong enough for police to send the case to the district attorney.
“Information is the life’s blood of a criminal investigation,” McGinness said. “It really takes discipline to not lock in who you believe is responsible. You want to invite people to come in with any information they have.”
The former sheriff said the divide between police and community members has grown deeper after several high-profile officer-involved shootings across the nation, including a 2014 incident in Ferguson, Mo., where an 18-year-old black man was killed by a white police officer.
“The community has to report crimes to the police or our system of justice will never work,” McGinness said.
Ryan Getty, assistant professor of criminal justice at Sacramento State, said authorities likely had strong evidence to incriminate Lindsey, noting that it was “highly unusual” for a juvenile to be held for three months on a firearm charge.
Clavo was the 14th teenager killed in 2015 in Sacramento County, according to coroner’s data. His death was the 11th homicide of the year in Police Patrol District 2, which encompasses the North Sacramento area around Del Paso Boulevard and Del Paso Heights. It was the third killing in District 2 of a teenager.
District 2 is one of two patrol areas in the city that have endured a marked spike in violent crime recently.
Derrell Roberts, executive director of the Roberts Family Development Center who organized the reward fund, said the arrest brought a sense of relief and hoped it would provide a catalyst for change in the neighborhoods of North Sacramento.
“It’s a day of reflection,” said Roberts, a longtime Del Paso Heights community leader.